Helping Bassoonists Transition to High School

Preparing for high school can feel stressful but this guide will help you select a marching instrument, know what to expect in high school band, and feel great about continuing your bassoon playing! 

Transition Timeline

  • January of 8th Grade: Start brainstorming about what marching instruments you want to play.

  • Spring Break of 8th Grade: Decide on your marching instrument or talk to your Band Director or private lesson teacher if you need advice.

  • Early April of 8th Grade: communicate with the High School Directors to make sure you know about upcoming camps, trainings and other important events. Percussionists in particular will start much earlier than other sections. Let the Directors know what you are thinking about playing so they can confirm that is a good choice for you.

  • Summer Before High School: take lessons or work with other students on your instrument if needed. Attend all summer marching camps and events required for your school.

  • Fall of 9th Grade: keep practicing bassoon and taking lessons. Prepare the region audition music to the best of your ability and audition for Region Band if you want.

  • Spring of 9th Grade: prepare your solo for Solo & Ensemble (January/February), do your best in concert band and continue to improve your technique. Consider any changes you want to make to your marching instrument plan for the next year.

Marching Instrument Options

Choosing a marching instrument should be fun! The things you should consider are: how much time and energy you have to learn something new, if you want to learn a new clef, how much it will interfere with your bassoon playing, and whether you want to march or not march on the field.

Top Choices

  • Baritone: my personal favorite option. It has the same clef as bassoon and doesn't cause embouchure problems. If you can buzz on a mouthpiece, this is a great option!

  • Tuba: same as above. Great if you don't mind carrying a larger instrument. Some schools may have limited numbers of instruments.

  • Front Ensemble Percussion: also a great option. This includes all of the instruments in the "pit" such as vibraphone, marimba, keyboards, and auxiliary percussion. Percussion helps develop rhythm and counting skills without interfering with the embouchure. You will probably need to read treble and bass clef, but it won't be difficult to learn. Some schools may have limited space in the front ensemble, but double reed players are usually welcome.

  • Battery Percussion (Snare, Bass, Tenors): these percussionists march on the field. Percussion is a good choice as listed above, however the battery has a limited number of spots and is very competitive. If you are interested, I'd recommend doing Front Ensemble for a year or two before trying out. It will take a lot of practice and training to prepare for a battery audition, which is easier after you’ve already completed a year or two of band.

  • Cymbal Line: technically part of the battery, cymbals are a marching instrument and a great choice for double reeds if your school has one! Easy to learn and great for improving counting skills.

Other Choices

I believe anyone can be successful on any of these instruments, they just aren't my top choice in terms of difficulty and interference with your bassoon playing.

  • Saxophone: requires you to learn treble clef and the embouchure is so different from bassoon that almost every student I have that plays saxophone went through a period of having problems with their embouchure and/or remembering fingerings. While saxophone is easily learned, it can interfere with your bassoon playing so it's best avoided. If you are set on playing saxophone, remember the section may be competitive and the music will be challenging but it can be done.

  • Clarinet: all of the problems that apply to saxophone also apply to clarinet. I've heard from some students that clarinet was more difficult to learn than saxophone.

  • Flute: doesn't cause any embouchure problems but is definitely challenging to learn and since there are a lot of players, you might have a hard time placing in the "varsity" group right away.

Fall Placement

Your fall band period will most likely be based primarily on your instrument in marching band, not your bassoon playing. Since you'll hardly be playing bassoon in class anyway, they may need you in a special freshman class or brass, percussion, or woodwind class instead. Don't stress if you don't make top band your first semester, it probably doesn't have anything to do with your audition or performance as a bassoonist. Remember, you have the entire fall semester to keep practicing and prepare a great audition for Spring.

Spring Placement

Spring placement will be based more on your skills as a bassoonist, but again don't expect to rocket to the top ensemble right away. There usually several experienced upperclassmen ahead of you and each ensemble probably only needs 2-3 bassoonists.

Factors that affect your placement include region audition results, in class performance and attitude, grades and your end of semester audition.

Your goal shouldn't be to be first chair, it should be to perform the music to the best of your ability and listen to the upperclassmen's performances to see what you can improve for next year.

High School Region Auditions

The TMEA All State Audition music is released at the end of July each year. The music is MUCH longer and more challenging than the middle school music. It can be overwhelming for 9th Graders to tackle this music on their own. Lessons are essential during the fall to help them progress through the music gradually. Most of them won't be able to learn it on their own.

Auditions take place in December for Region Band. A select few people may be chosen to attend Region Orchestra Auditions in November as well. Students who advance from either competition can participate in the Region Band in January and a select few get to audition again at Area Auditions in January. The best players from Area get to attend the All State Convention in San Antonio in February. 

Making Region Band as a Freshman is rare, keep in mind you are competing against people 2-3 years more experienced than you. It can definitely happen, but the goal is really to learn the music, improve your technique, and see how you do at the audition so you can prepare better the next year.